The witch and wizard walked hand-in-hand from the entrance of Diagon Alley from the Leaky Cauldron Pub. It still seemed weird, after being married for some two and a half years, to being seen now as the Mister and Missus. Nobody cared who she was. Or for that matter, that she could march up and down in full view and no one cared at all.
The witches of Diagon Alley might care that he was holding her hand. But tough shit, girls! He is mine.
They stopped at the little half alley, next toWeasley's Wizarding Wheezes and he checked her outfit for the umpteenth time, seemingly. “Look good. Not too flashy. Drab shoes and purse but that's okay. Not a fashion show. Serious hair ...”
“Husband, you are seriously beginning to irritate me,” she warned.
“Anger in her eye, death in her snarl, and ...oh, yes, toilet paper stuck to her shoe.” He completed the inventory.
“You are so going to get it. Leave me alone to humiliate myself.”
“I have every confidence you will fail in your expectations.”
She worked that out as sort of a backwards way of saying she had this job interview all sewn up. “No. Want this to be taken serious. Just never …..semi-officially interviewed when someone knew what I am. Leave me be for the rest of the day and be there when I get home. So I can rip your clothes off.”
He said, “I am …...leaving right now.”
The witch who was Astrid muttered, “Big surprise.”
The very average, middle-aged witch opened the undistinguished door next to the Wheezes and closed it again. All was still inside. A second glance at the frosted window gave a fleeting impression of a group of Quidditch broom riders, hovering in a circle and silently applauding. The witch curtsied, and gave the players a brief salute, where upon they flew off into the glass's misty depths. She considered the players approval for a moment, but decided not to be overconfident about it. The real test had been traveling around the Alley, talking to people, and being assured her disguise fooled ordinary wizards.
The witch counted to herself, preparing for her first job interview in ….several decades. And came up the stairs to Harry Potter's office.
It was raining outside so she had to put to one side an ugly but utilitarian umbrella. There was nothing particularly impressive about her, in anyway. Average height, plain of face, cheap makeup, rotten haircut, vaguely flabby but not really fat, and ordinarily dressed. Quite a come down from the tough chick she'd been for the last forty years.
Inside, she was the same. But she had to have a different face. That was an easy trade. To be here again, she'd be a she-goblin.
If she had to.
To be honest, this new Astrid was not out of the ordinary for any woman of this era. But she was considerably less expensively outfitted than the beautiful witch that sat on the other side of the desk, at the top of the stairs.
That witch was tall, leggy, and could have been dressed in burlap bags, stuck with gum wrappers and odd bits of smelly trash smeared with decades old cheese, and still have turned heads. She had her legs elegantly crossed, bouncing the top leg entrancingly, emphasizing a beautiful stockinged calf and simple but smashing high heels. Her brownish hair was cut short, something Maddie had not done before, but again looked terrific on her. She did not look like a twenty-eight-year old mother of two.
But her eyes were those of a teenager's. Dancing, bubbly, and unable to keep a secret. The plain woman thought that much, not very intimidated, despite the apparent age and style difference. The older woman was far older than she appeared, and a lot more formidable.
Madelene pursed her mouth, trying to look like she was seriously reading the resumé. Astrid had genuinely filled out some of the sections, at a whim, not being afraid to put down some of her experiences. Maddie knew who she was, and the disguised vampire had let odd tid-bits of the stuff leak out, years before. She would make certain the sheet was destroyed, in any case. Just to make sure no one outside the immediate family saw the paper.
That was too dangerous.
“Thank you, for coming back, Ms. Digby.”
“Oh, sorry, forgot to update that. Should read Mrs. Weasley.”
“How can I forget. No big deal. Took me months to stop writing my maiden name. Er ...well, my fake maiden name. Very, very interesting reading, I must say,” Mrs. Madelene Weasley said, in a voice she must have been practicing for days. All prim and proper, like she had come fresh teaching at a posh girls' school, and lording it over a East end tramp.
“Well, haven't actually written out too many of those” Astrid-in-disguise, said unconsciously defensive. “Tried to be accurate.”
“Says here you have no practical experience in criminal investigation?”
“Not like I was going to list thirteen years as an auror, now, was I. I am supposed to be in hiding. How much do you have?”
“Well, hiding is a basic one, anyway. Isn't it? I've been hiding half my life. Should note that down.” Maddie shook her head, as if not hearing 'new Mrs. Weasley's' objections, holding up long fingers of one hand to count them off . “There are some other basic skills required: Independence. Perseverance. Creative thinking. Inventiveness. Total dedication to seeing the senior partner's ass is completely safe.......”
“That is not one of the qualifications.” The senior partner's voice sounded from the around the corner, sitting behind his unusually large and fiercely ugly desk. He could not see the two women in the upstairs landing slash reception area, and was not visible to them. But Astrid could hear the smile he was trying to keep from his face as he seriously devoted attention to the Times crossword puzzle.
'Is too!' mouthed Maddie, and Astrid-in-disguise nodded, and the interviewer marked a satisfactory check on the faux-not-so-faux resume.
“Uh, hmmm, hmmm, as I was beginning to say, we are looking for someone to join the Potter Agency. Our expansion into a four person business entails certain demands on our personnel. They have to be able to be seen as fitting seamlessly in with us. We are a family.”
“I am your family, too. I am your sister-in-law!”
“NONE the less, I cannot play favorites. There have been several remarkable candidates before you.”
“I saw them. The one legged pensioner …... very nice, but slightly senile. And the witch after him has been following Harry around for years, stealing scraps from the trash bin outside that he touched, wearing them if she can be sure he handled them.”
“Eeeeeww!” Said the hidden listeners, in the room in the adjoining 'Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes' joke shop.
“That's …..disturbing.” said Luna.
“I know,” George absently said. “I usually go through the garbage myself, on odd weekends. Just in case my collection of Potter hankies is incomplete.”
Ginny laughed, throwing a potato chip at her brother's head. “Half believe that. Probably trying to turn them into lethal weapons.” His sister said, through a mouthful of crisps. “Why do we have to do this? She doesn't look or sound or share anything in common with the witch the Ministry is on the look-out for.”
“Has to be seen as someone completely outside the group. And not super-human or fast or strong or anyway 'vampire-like.'”
“Ministry doesn't know the first thing about what a vampire is, do they? Made everyone wear garlic and silver daggers around their necks for a month after she was found out.”
“Skin still stinks of the stuff. Used to love garlic.” Neville was busy writing down Astrid's answers, for Hermione and Luna's research.
Luna knew that full well, waving a hand past her nose as if that would defeat the lingering odor.“Yes, dearest, you do seem to have that permanent air. Will have to work on that. Quiet, please. We are missing what she is saying.”
Ginny was a bit baffled why Luna insisted on this. “Not like we don't know she's Astrid!” Of course, many things Luna did baffled people.
“She's speaking unconsciously. Hermione and I have used this technique on a number of occasions. People say things about themselves, not thinking it might reveal clues about stuff they hide. Shhhh!”
“.....Let's quickly go through your experiences, shall we.” Maddie's voice came through clear, out of the alarmingly lifelike human ear -like a Muggle radio speaker- mounted on the center of George Weasley's and Lee Jordan office desk. “Hmm, daughter of independent entrepreneur?..”
“Viking chieftain.” said Astrid in monotone.
“Knew that.” said Luna, next door.
“Ahh, yes, not much call for that these days …. a witch! That's required!, ….. Wilderness explorer? And medicine woman?”
“Depends on what tribe you speak to. Some refer to me as ….. white-crazy she-devil. That's a loose translation.”
“Not entirely flattering.”
“Mostly propaganda. Maddie, this is not necessary. I am willing to be whom I am, now.”
“Oh, but there is more ...”
In the other room, Luna smiled, “Maddie has been practicing this for weeks, she's not going to let Astrid off the hook. We've spent seven years scraping clues and little tidbits of information about her past ...”
“....attending Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ...in 1491?” Maddie voice came out of the ear on Lee Jordan's desk. “Just one year?”
“Well, that's one more year than you've had!” Astrid defensively returned.
“Touchy, isn't she. Wish we could see. George, why isn't anything coming through on the tube?” Ginny pointed to yet another Muggle television. But this was a relatively new flat-panel screen, specially connected to what George hoped would be his latest sensation.
“It's got to carefully crawl through the crack, in the ceiling boards. Doesn't work if the little speck is obvious to the people in the room?”
Longbottom was supposed to be also taking notes, but George had noticed it was mostly some sort of solitaire game of 'hangman'. Neville mumbled, “Bit more than one speck on the ceiling. Think you might talk Harry into a little sprucing up.”
Ginny frowned at Neville, “Believe me, I've tried. Thank you very much, Neville, for calling my work place filthy.”
Luna ticked a despairing tongue.
Maddie's reply faintly came in from the 'ear' from next door, as the secret listeners had been talking during her reply to also missing Hogwarts as a school. They had missed the first part of her rebuttal, and she sounded a bit defensive herself, “....my schooling is a tad ...incomplete. I don't deny that, but this is your interview. Don't distract me. This next bit is confusing …... harem girl and sultana? Not sure how that is going to be much of a help to Harry ...”
“Figured out who killed the kidnapped daughter of my friend. And held a substantial ….err..... umm....entertainment and administrative job …..for a few years, afterward.”
“Ran an empire.”
“Well, that is useful.” Madelene conceded.
Luna traced down a list of hand written notes, she and Hermione had been keeping, special, on Astrid specifically. Then she hurriedly whipped open a thick book of Muggle medieval history, and breathed out an “aaahhh!” Then laid the heavy book down so all about the table could see.
She pointed to an antique, stylized picture of a Renaissance painting of a woman, a Muggle picture so it was not in-motion or even closely accurate. She was in elaborate, flowing robes and swirls of silk, red-haired, and a little about the face and eyes, highly reminiscent of ..”
“Look at that. Out in plain sight,” marveled Neville.
Ginny nodded. “That's her real face. Astrid. Fake name for history, of course ….....says she was possibly Ukrainian ….concubine to the Sultan of Turkey. Hell of a disguise ....!”
“Got it. Look, quickly.” George pointed to the screen, and the screen divided into at least eight, slightly overlapping panes, as if looking through a kaleidoscope. “Have to work out the glitches. I will eliminate some of the unnecessary views …. there!”
Now, down to just two, definitely unstereoscopic views, the group could now see the two witches in Harry's waiting area, from the slightly unorthodox point of view of straight down from overhead, and upside down.
“Nice shot of Maddie's cleavage.” Ginny leered.
“Will you grow up, Ginny? You are making Neville's face turn brick red,” George leered back.
“Keep it down, all of you. Like ten-year olds.” Luna was unusually exasperated.
“ ….Says here you can crew a “Long Nine”, and splice a stay in any weather the Bay of Biscay can throw at you.”
“Well, yeah, bit of a braggart about all that. Sorry. Not really pertinent to mystery solving.” Disguised Astrid looked slightly humbled, but mumbled to herself that it was true.
“What's a 'long-nine'?”
“A muzzle-loading ship's cannon.”
“What's a cannon?”
Maddie waved that irrelevancy aside, continued, “The list ends with …. royal handmaiden?” She looked archly, as if having come to the main point of a Crown Prosecutor's interrogation of a witness.
“Sort of overdoes the ….'ah, hah.' ….bit. Grant you.” George said critically.
Ginny whispered, afraid of not hearing Astrid's reply, “Fancies herself in the Old Bailey.”
Astrid seemed reluctant to say anything. “This is getting a little too close to home, Maddie. Victoria was a friend, and I don't want to talk about anything more recent than her court. Most of the 20th century sucked, in my professional opinion, and the 19th was better time.... except for the corsets ….and the disease …and the land-grabbing of all the Earth...... and the general horrible exploitation of masses of humanity. Are we done?”
Madelene looked steadily at the anonymous-looking woman, and her facade of critical impartiality crumbled as she crushed Astrid's resume and rushed around the table to give the new employee a colossal hug. And tossing the notes just taken into the innocuous trash bin at the side of the desk.
Wherein, a brief flash and a puff of smoke erupted from it, and the battered trash can sat looking dirty and unobtrusive. As always.
“Guess she's hired.” Ginny happily and unnecessarily announced.
Neville said with a tad jealousy tone,“Wow, can't recall Headmaster Flitwick doing that to me.”
“Be a little alarmed to hear that he had. Nev, please don't crinkle your notes.” Luna absently corrected Neville, who always had a unconscious habit of stuffing the papers in hand into his pants pockets. She had long experience of years of marriage, now, to empty out his clothes before laundering.
“Finally. Guess that's a wrap.” Ginny smiled and turned to walk out the office and toward the stairs where the connecting doorway to Harry's detective office lay.
Astrid voice came clear from the ear on the desk. “Oh, and one more thing. George! Spider's don't wear little yellow glasses.” On the wall-mounted television, the older woman looked up from the embrace by Maddie Weasley at the viewer's camera, and tossed a paper weight straight at the 'eyes', that made all the four adults in the room flinch and duck, and the monitor's picture went black, coinciding with a loud thunk from next door.
Despite the others laughter, George at first was a trifle miffed, “...Oh,.....that......damn.....spent hours getting that thing working. Okay, a design flaw. But yellow was the only color I had. How did she see that anyway?”
Everyone in the dark room laughed. And when he could speak, between giggles, Neville said, “Vampire super-eye sight. Maybe your little monster emits high sonic farts or something. Why did your spider need glasses, oh great wizard?”
“No mean joke getting glasses on something the size of sesame seed, and with eight eyes. Seems they are a trifle near-sighted. Didn't think of that till just before the interviews began. Better go and see what's left.” George Weasley grumbled, unhappy that his tour-de-force in sneaky wizardry now lay smushed on his brother-in-law's ceiling.
Luna grabbed the immense pile of books and papers and shoved them into her husbands hands. “We'll see you later. Mustn't let Astrid see me. She'll know we've been taking notes. Come along, Neville.”
Longbottom stoically looked straight ahead, compliantly following Luna as she rushed out into the Wheezes main floor toward the main entrance.
Knowing Hermione waiting back at Hogwarts was probably bursting to hear what was said.
Some more of their private secrets Professor Weasley kept careful records of.
[Potter Detective Agency, post interview party]
Ginny and George found Madelene excitedly talking to 'new' Astrid about all the remodeling plans she had for the office. Harry could be glimpsed resignedly doodling alongside the crossword he was stuck on, listening in on the 'inadequacies' of the current set up.
One he had been perfectly happy with for twelve years.
Ginny occasionally got in a word edgewise, but let Maddie talk. They had all been excited by the scheme, but Maddie more than most had been prime motivator and cajoler. Astrid had been a fact and constant presence in their lives for the eight years, nearly the entire time Maddie had also been with them. Having her back, alibi as a hidden identity, almost made things 'normal'.
It had been a yawning gulf, those first couple of months, being unable to talk about it with others outside the family. Especially, before the vampire had reestablished contact with the Weasleys and Potters, it seemed bleakly certain the family had suffered a double loss it had to struggle to recover from. All of the family -but particularly Ron and his sister- had been morose and joyless, joining Arthur as being the unofficially designated killjoys at any family occasion. Molly, they couldn't bring back, no matter how hard some wished to.
Astrid, on the other hand, was now as much a part of them, there was no question about doing whatever they could to have her returned to the fold.
Alone, and quietly, Astrid reintroduced herself to the separate individuals she had known before. To Bill and Harry, it had apparently been less of a surprise. To Neville, she had greeted him after masquerading as a Ministry inspector of flue efficiency, which he reacted to by nearly jumping off the balcony of the Longbottom house. But he recovered enough to let Astrid, in yet another guise as a gruff and unpleasant bureaucrat, play Hermione and Luna for dupes, fresh from walking home from Hogwarts classes. The secretive practical joker-professor paid for it with a minor tongue lashing and retaliatory pranks on his dignity, at school.
The vampire unobtrusively reestablished herself as an unimportant witch, of minimal means, and looking for employment. A migrant from 'the other side of the Atlantic', returning to the home of her ancestral family. Vague and reasonably true, uninviting any real inspection of the facts. It was a common enough practice. Many of the witch-vampires had done this repeatedly, in all the countries of the globe. A decade or two, here and there, three or more in rare exceptions, and being forced to move away and take up a new face.
It was getting harder and harder, with the slow pervasiveness of Muggle technology. And that the disparate wizarding communities about the world were more and more in touch with one another. There would come a day, the vampires realized, when the game would truly be over. The Ministry of Magic of Great Britain's brief alarum over possible magical enemies, disguised amongst other witches and wizards, subsided in a few months.
But it was certain there were a paranoid few, like long lost Alastor Moody, who continued to watch for others like the tall red-haired witch-auror.
Astrid was now living as 'Veronica'. Not her first choice of names, and the rather plain, drab-look of the middle aged woman did not make her look forward to getting up in the morning. Her actual first idea was to be 'Eleanor', but in a moment of panic at being confronted by a minor Ministry sub-official, she had given her maiden name as 'Digby', unable to think of something else. It was only afterward, when George Weasley had laughingly pointed out the eerie sounding coincidence of the two names put together, that she was forced to accept she had colossally goofed at keeping quietly anonymous.
With her silent apologies to the 'Lads from Liverpool', she suffered the inevitable humor leveled her way. It did not last long. After a quiet few weeks back amongst the humans, it was announced that 'Veronica Eleanor Digby' and Charles Weasley would be wed.
It was surprising to everyone, more so to people outside the family, who only knew of Charlie's good-time party reputation and career since graduating from school. That a change had come over him was undeniable, since his mother's death, mysteriously tragic after rescuing some of her grand-children from an ill-advised walk into the Forbidden Forest. He had shrank from associating with the old wilder elements, upon his return to England. And in fact had to find a much more respectable job, in any case. The Romanian Minister of Magic made it clear Weasley was no longer welcome back in his country's dragon preserve.
Apparently, family issues dominated the decision. Several families in Romania, in fact, had made angry declarations to demand Charles be extradited for murky legal reasons. Some reasons were plainly homicidal. Equally true was several of the outraged-vengeful families had young women and an old world sense of transgression. The Ministry and the Aurors determined in fact that it would be unsafe for Charlie to leave the country for at least the next few years. And so he had had to embark on a new career.
That was as the head researcher at the British Museum of Antique Monsters, more popularly known as the 'Dragon Museum'. Since usually only witches and wizards and their children knew about it and were rather sparse in attending, the staff was minuscule and Charlie was immediately the youngest one of the crew. In fact, the only one who was not alive when Grindelwald the Dark Wizard had been in power in the mid-Twentieth century.
Confounding the commonly held wisdom, Charlie swore off the pub-and-Quidditch crowd, stayed away from his old haunts and the dozens of disappointed available witches. And became ...exceedingly boring over the next two years. Topping it off by marrying a seemingly ordinary witch -that nobody knew and had very few friends- just capped a complete turn around in Charles Weasley's career. The very few that now cared joked that maybe Charlie was actually in love.
Which would have been outrageously ridiculous, in his former life.
But Charlie and the 'ordinary' witch, with no apparent family or friends, had quietly settled in as man and wife. And the whole world seemed turned upside down to the 'party' crowd, and they stopped trying to coax Charlie into joining them. He had grown up.
The couple's 'future' only sparked burning interest within the family. To Arthur Weasley, and Hermione, alone, did they confide the true facts. Theirs wasn't a easy conversation often had with a parent or sister-in-law. The new 'Weasleys' would, on purpose, live quiet and solitary lives. But would still be part of the family.
'Veronica' could never have children. Her body had been magically transformed into a non-living undead creature, now over ten centuries old. She was still a monster, in her description, that needed human blood and would kill to get it, if driven to it by self denial. The new couple had made it clear they had a solution to her homicidal urge, and it was none of the others business. The others had to take it in trust that it worked.
Vampire was not something your nieces and nephews brought to school, anymore than a wyvern or a kraecken. She did not age, and the horrible fact was that she would outlive the Potters and Longbottoms and the rest of the Weasleys, as well as their children, grand-children and future descendants, come accident or violence.
Alone. That is, except for Charlie.
He had to tell his father Arthur now the truth about what he was. And the rest of the story about how his mother had been murdered. As a dragon, Charlie had become something separate and isolated from other witches and wizards, just as Astrid-Veronica had. And he would not die or get sick … just exist as he was. There was no cure. But he had found someone like him, and she him, and he hoped that was enough to make amends for how he had lived in the past.
Arthur wept at the story, at the pointless and unnecessary murder of his wife, and what had corrupted his son and nearly Hermione, as well. And at the lives of the others, Teddy, Hermione, and some other witch they refused to talk about, had been saved by Draco Malfoy. That family and the Weasley's had been enemies for some four decades. It was hard for Arthur to forget. But he could not deny a debt to Draco. Arthur was a decent, honest wizard, whose life had been hit by the inevitable ravages of age and loss. But he was a good man, and he was at peace, finally.
Draco, for his part, kept himself separate and distant, as always. His wife, Camilla, insistently maintained her friendship with Luna Longbottom. But Draco did not partake. It would have been too strange. Despite his own reluctance, other wizards shunning of the Malfoys stopped, because of Draco's 'heroic' actions in the Forest. He wasn't ignored, anymore, but still kept to himself.
His son and Luna's became best friends, along with the Potter's daughter, Lily. As strange as that all seemed to the oldsters, it was exactly what Harry had been hoping for.
For Harry, and his friends from school, relations with Draco were ..civilized.
That was still a work in progress.
Ginny thought all this, daydreaming, until brought back to the here and now by the others calling her name. “Sorry. None of you seemed to need me.”
“Always need you Ginny.” 'Veronica' smiled. Oddly, she seemed to do that easier and more often, now, than when she had been 'Auror Vortigern'.
“Excellent. First, show me the new ring.”
The old two rings had been recast, with the tiny white rocklet of dubious value set next to the much bigger, bluer one on silver.
“Oh, kind of like the moon and the Earth.” Ginny said after admiring it.
“Exactly.” Astrid was pleased Ginny got that connection immediately. Most people thought the tiny white stone a mistake.
“Good. Second thing. Glad I'm not going to weigh you down. Because ….you're MINE.” Ginny dramatically intoned. Maddie laughed, and Harry smiled, absently. George just looked sourly at the flattened 'dot' in his palm, that had been his magical mobile remote camera. He leaned disconsolately against the innocent-looking possessed water cooler. Which bubbled occasionally, invitingly.
“What exactly, do you mean?” Veronica said, dangerously.
“Means you are my partner, on cases. Also, means I am in charge and that you cannot be Astrid the Auror, anymore. No more super bursts of speed, bending steel with your eyebrows, wowing men with your sexy body. Plain, ordinary, flabbily weak, sometimes wrong, 'Veronica' the witch. Sometimes annoyed at her bossy in-laws....” Ginny walked into the back room she shared with Harry to toss her cloak to the her desk, and instead just threw it over her husband's head.
He made no comment other than a dull grunt.
“That won't be hard.” Veronica grumped, speaking about not drawing attention. But she had to resign herself to being very ...unspectacular. She now had to be opposite, externally, to all other witches and wizards, to the Astrid they had identified as an impostor and a vampire.
Still in Maddie's receptionist area,Veronica had slightly moved to keep Ginny in sight to continue asking more about what Ginny had in mind for her, and then noticed the 'new' picture on Harry's 'special' memorial wall.
A watercolor of her face! Looking off to one side, as 'Astrid the fisherman's girl'. What she had been all those centuries ago. In a blurred background of half-formed green leaves. One of 'The Painter's pictures she had half seen in that one's cold Italian studio four years ago, and then dismissed!
Ginny just smiled and waited for Veronica to say something.
The vampire finally whispered. “You can't have that there. How did you get that?”
“It stays, and they'll have to blow the building apart to get it off.” Harry said, pulling off Ginny's cloak.
“Don't be stupid ….”
“I'm not interested in their opinion. 'Astrid' stays on my wall. For all time. The Ministry has no authority over my art, and how I decorate the wall. They will forget what you look like in a few years, anyway.”
Veronica, the witch formerly known as Astrid could argue that, but she knew the Potters well enough now that they would only get more stubborn. She'd get the picture later, she decided.
Harry gave a small smile to Ginny, already guessing 'Veronica' was planning in trying to take the picture. Would she get a surprise when she tried!
“That's ours and its final. Get your own decorations.”
“Think Ginny's developing a 'fuhrer' complex, again, just like when she flew Quidditch.” George mumbled. “Don't let her get you down, Ast ...Veronica.” He corrected himself, hefting the sad 'spyder'. “By the way, did you have to make it one dimensional?” He was still poking at the tiny corpse.
“Reacted instinctively. It closely resembled a highly poisonous insect in the American Southwest. Couldn't take the chance.” Veronica smiled devilishly.
“Hmmph. Wonder if that's true.” George said lowly, but just then, a faint high-pitched scream could be heard, and then Lee's voice from next door, bellowing, 'GEORGE!'
Maddie waved away the suddenly tense moves by Ginny, Veronica and Harry to leap into action. Old habits still died hard. “That was an 'outraged, how dare you accuse me' scream.”
“Suppose we've burdened 'Uncle Lee' for too long, with the twins, unleashed.” George said sadly. At his words, one of the unleashed ones, a little witch of about five years of age, appeared at his elbow, sporting hugely adult, oversized glasses. Which in fact were ...
“Sneak-o-specs! Abby, we told you not to touch the store merchandise.” Maddie said crossly. How she identified which one of the seemingly identical girls, only a mother could say.
“Daddy said I could, if it was in our upstairs room.” Abby defiantly.
“Not just any, Sneak-o-specs.” George smiling but resignedly reached down to gently pull off the glasses from the darling little red-haired girl, to reveal a band of darkness across her eyes. Like a raccoon.
“Comes off. Comes off, easily.” George quickly spoke down Maddie's unhappiness. Only Veronica could make out George's swallowed 'I hope.' Merchant Weasley indulgently folded the glasses into a shirt pocket and asked gently, “What were you girls playing?”
“Dress up. Tina got the shiny clothes, and I am the husband.”
Ginny said, “Oh, very good, quite sensible. I've been encouraging Uncle Harry to do that for years.”
“Oh, hah!” Harry said.
George seemed to have been missing something, lips moving as if repeating his daughters words, then “Shiny clothes! Oh Merlin!, the silk underwear!” And he leapt up and out, through the connecting doorway back into the 'Wheezes' jokeshop.
“Silk, hmmmm....” Ginny slyly.
“Not, ummmm, mine. ...Shipment ….excuse me.” Madelene swiftly left, towing the 'raccoon girl' behind her. Shutting the connecting door firmly.
'Veronica-Astrid', Ginny and Harry all laughed to each other, knowing what the others were all thinking. Molly Weasley, if she was a ghost, was laughing, too. That old witches saying … 'may you grow up to have children just like you', hung in the air as if the incantation had just been made. The adults stopped giggling a few minutes later, looking sheepishly.
“Balance ...in the universe... I mean.” Veronica said, getting her things. “These are the good years, too. Can't wait for them to be teenagers …. for George, I mean.” They all smiled shark's grins. On a more serious note, Veronica said, “And thank you, both of you, for this ….” she waved vaguely at the slapdash, disheveled office, and the newly reopened front room, which was dryly dusty and barren.
“My empire.” Harry said grandly.
“OUR … you forget.” Ginny corrected him.
“Our empire. The imperial 'we', I mean.”
Veronica nodded to herself, looking about. “This will be a change for me. But ...change is good. And for Charlie's dog, too. We know he's got a good home. He was growing too nervous about us. Dog's too sensitive around both of us, for obvious reasons. Same problem I sometimes have near Bill ….and his acquaintances. Canines sense something …... different.”
Ginny waved a small hand, “The Shep part was easy. Kids already arguing about whose dog he is. Boys very upset that Lily tried to play dress up with Shep.”
“Yet they all disappear when it comes time to clean up the back yard.” Harry said exasperatedly. “I'm the one holding the shovel and the pail.”
“Yet, dear husband, at whose foot does he sit at, and at whose knee does he nudge when the master of the house comes home.” Ginny's mouth grinned sideways, pointing at Harry's nose.
“Ahhhhh!” George and Veronica said in unison, canting their heads endearingly. George had slipped Sheepishly avoiding eye contact while scrounging about the floor for 'one of the legs.'
Maddie came back in through the half door, thrusting something that looked silkily like a sheer camisole into a drawer of her old desk. “I am so excited. Well, ….let's hold off on anything drastic. Let's just concentrate on the seating arrangement. The front room is only big enough to hold one desk, plus it has a lovely view of the Wheeze's manikin of George's ear.” She had been bursting with plans, and it was now all flooding out in a rush.
“That's Fred ear, actually.” George was still scouting around the floor, for more parts of his spider.
“Really unnecessary, George. There are hosts of spiders just like it in Grimauld. Teddy can surely get more for you.” 'Veronica' rolled her eyes.
“Oh, how ….intriguing.” George said with a calculating look.
Ginny said disgustingly. “Always a problem. When no one was in, the nasty critters and the boogie men slither back into the drawers and nooks. Thank you, Astri...Eleanor....Veronica, ….. none of those names are going to be easy remembering, by the way, …......for watching the house for us.”
“No, thank you two. Vastly better than Charlie's prison cell of a flat, or my old garret. Didn't mind being the chaperon at Teddy's parties, either.”
Harry made a brief 'tich-ing' sound and was busy looking anywhere but at Ginny's angry stare.
“The name thing is going to be a problem.” Ginny said resignedly.
“Eleanor! Eleanor! I hate the name Veronica. Call me Eleanor Weasley.”
George shook his head. “Too late, Lee's already made up the sign board, for out front.”
“Go back to work.”
At the close of the door, “Hmmm, does that work on all of them?” Astrid-Veronica-Eleanor said, a hopeful air about her face.
“No, especially if there weren't supposed to be any parties to chaperon.” Ginny said wishfully, staring into space. Harry, still seated behind the desk, went back to 'seriously' working on his crossword puzzle.
Maddie didn't stay embarrassed long. “Anyway, I think we will be fine, seating wise. I will stay there on the landing, I thought Ginny might like a break ...”
“I mean, a change of pace, from being with Harry all day, so she and 'Veron-anor' should share back here, and his worship and dog-pooper extraordinary, can sit up front.”
Nobody liked this arrangement. Harry spoke first. “I was perfectly fine. I like this window. I don't want to see an ear all day long.”
“Yes, but you do spend an inordinate amount of time watching the pigeons.” Ginny rolled her eyes shut, knowing Harry would deny everything.
“I'm not watching the pigeons out back!”
“Good! There are plenty out front in the Alley. You'll have better things to do.”
“This must be why the Muggle stories all have the detective alone, drinking, heavily. Besides, I think we should vote on the plan. And since I am the senior, my vote wins …”
“Were ….senior, actually. Ministry tax code …..I won't bore you with the document, but point is we are now reincorporated, as of this morning.” Maddie frowned at that, and quietly muttered, “All ...equal .....hmmm.”
Astrid-Veronica-Eleanor beamed. “Ah, sooo, the day is looking up! I am taking charge of security. Awfully lax around here. A proper rear exit is the first priority. And I am sitting at the landing, with clear fields of fire ….”
Maddie chuffed, wide-eyed, “I beg your pardon, Ms. New Girl-Combat monster! Nothing's happened here in the nine-ten years I've been sitting at that landing ,,,
“Equal, equal, equal, …
Harry slumped in his chair. The days when he had been alone in the building, for nine or so months, seemed like a golden, lost dream, now. “This is such a disaster!”
Ginny smiled, punched him gently in the shoulder, and said, “Welcome to an ordinary life. Harry Potter.”
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